UBCO education professor John-Tyler Binfet with therapy dog Frances.—Image credit: UBCO

Dogs in the classroom

Therapy dogs help young students learn in the Okanagan

Furry, four-legged teacher aids have moved into the classroom to help a group of kids develop skills needed at school.

UBC Okanagan’s Building Academic Retention through K9s (BARK) program has been mentoring 22 children, aged five- to 12-years-old from the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club. The six-week program called Building Confidence through K9s, supported by Telus Thompson Okanagan Community Board, will help build the children’s leadership and social skills. The pilot program is specifically designed to build evidence for expansion regionally, and nationally, says BARK director John-Tyler Binfet.

Binfet an assistant professor in UBC Okanagan’s faculty of education says the students, who are at a critical stage in social development, will participate in series of skill-building sessions developed by the faculty. He thinks it’s a great opportunity to leverage the effects of animal therapy.

“This particular time in a child’s life is critical to establishing empathy, leadership, and social skills,” said Binfet. “The presence of a therapy dog will ensure youth who may require additional support in building this skill-set are emotionally and socially supported.”

The evidence is clear, he says, that interactions with therapy dogs can positively affect well-being, particularly in stressful situations. Youth are vulnerable during the transition into adulthood, and Binfet says this pilot program was created with the specific goal of fostering life-long skills for success.

“The initial feedback from students, after-school leaders, parents, and the UBC community has been overwhelmingly positive. This program builds confidence and skills but has bridged children to the UBC community.”

“The best part of the program is witnessing the children’s excitement,” said Paula Buchanan, program area leader for the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club, who explains how on the very first day, the children learned effective skills for introducing themselves with the help of their K9 companion. ­­­“The children are building confidence right before our eyes.”

The program is offered in partnership with the Telus Thompson Okanagan Community Board Fund, which focuses on community programs that help youth succeed.

“Many of us have been experienced firsthand the calming, positive benefits of being in the company of a furry friend,” said Steve Jenkins, Telus general manager for the Okanagan and vice-chairman of the Telus Thompson Okanagan Community Board.

“At Telus we live by the philosophy we give where we live, and this program will improve the lives of local youth. Our Community Board is proud to contribute to this project and continue our relationships with both UBC as well as the Okanagan Boys and Girl Clubs.”

Binfet conducts research on the effects of animal-assisted therapy and says the Telus Thompson Okanagan Community Board Fund is a clear example of how communities can work together to help young people.

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